Hamlet’s Last Words.

For our time.


O, my dye, Horatio;

The potent poison quite o’er-crows my cheeks:

I cannot live to hear the news from Georgia;

But I do prophesy the election lights

On Trump: he has my dying voice;

So tell him, with the occurrences, more and less,

Which have solicited. The rest is silence.

Keep it simple, stupid.

In the post before this one, we noted how often thoughtful people single out Mozart’s Soave sia il vento (this YouTube is just the score without the singers; look at the post below this one for the piece in performance) as among the most beautiful pieces of music in the world. Can we say why?

Here are some ideas about that. First, whether you read music or not, look at the score on YouTube as it drifts by. In this song, the singers wave goodbye to lovers who are sailing away on an uncertain voyage; they calmly and lovingly wish them well.

May the wind be gentle,
may the waves be calm,
and may every one of the elements
respond warmly
to your desire

And again, whether or not you read music, you can just see – quite graphically – that under the placid confident well-wishing singing line are constant, rhythmic “waves” (those groups of notes repeating and repeating with a gently insistent forward energy) which both lull and hint at the always-latent possibility of turbulence in life. It is, in short, bittersweet; or, as Bernard Haitink put its down there, full of beauty, tenderness, and longing.

On one level, this Andante gentle rhythmic piece is beloved because it is, if you will, infantile — its persistent soft rhythm perhaps arouses memories of being held and rocked in loving parental arms. And it is beloved because it is simple – simple, and I’d say musically generous. Its slow clarified line, taken up vividly by each of the singers in turn, lets you see the music, hear the harmonies. Albert Schweitzer once wrote that when he was young the very simple two-part harmony in the song In the Mill By the Stream “thrilled me all over to my very marrow, and similarly the first time I heard brass instruments playing together I almost fainted from excess of pleasure.” The concision, the intuitively graspable emotion, the slow and clarified singers’ line that allows you somehow to rest in the music and really relish the harmonies and dynamics (“It pauses all the [frenetic] action” of Così fan tutte, as one performer puts it.) — all of these and more I think account for the exceptionally beautiful and moving effect of Mozart’s song.


Although sung, I think this piece is an example of pure music, rather in the way another, much sillier and much better known piece, is pure though sung. What I mean is that these songs (I have in mind for the silly example You’re Not Sick, You’re Just in Love — as with the young Schweitzer, I’ll never forget my delight and amazement on hearing it for the first time and seeing how the two singers could take their long separate lines and merge them harmonically – how the composer made this complex melding work…) are music itself, the immediate and intense ignition of aesthetic ecstasy in us merely by the subtle and playful mechanism of organized sound.

The higher you go, the less subjective is taste.

The New York Times asked fifteen important musicians and music critics to name the five minutes of Mozart they would play for a friend to make her fall in love with him. Who can be surprised that even though Mozart wrote a trillion tunes, two of the fifteen agreed those few minutes would be Soave sia il vento?

Extra credit: Listen to the end – starting at around 2:00 – of Met cellist Kari Docter’s interview.

UD discovered Soave in her restless quest to listen to everything Julia Lezhneva has performed, cuz longtime readers know UD is a Lezhneva fanatic. On first hearing it, UD concentrated on the unbelievable sweet piping clarity of JL’s voice (UD feels similarly about Kathleen Battle, another otherworldly singer), but UD quickly shifted to the threesome singing the song, and the way their voices wove this particular brief transcendence…

Bernard Haitink: [T]he trio “Soave sia il vento” is one of the most sublime things I know. The text is “May the winds be gentle, and the sea calm,” and you can almost feel the breezes gently blowing and the waves lapping in the violins as it starts. Such beauty, tenderness and longing, all in the space of just over two and a half minutes.

Mitsuko Uchida: The trio “Soave sia il vento” … brings tears to my eyes every time the strings start playing.

Okay, so we have the powerful testimony of quite a few people – throw in the writer Alexander McCall Smith (“Not only is this one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed, but the words are extraordinarily peaceful, generous and resolved. ‘On your voyage, may the winds be gentle; may the waves be calm; may all the elements respond to your desires…’ What more can we wish anyone setting off on life’s journey? I listen to this several times a day; I never tire of it. It is music suffused with the greatest possible sympathy and humanity. It expresses what I want to feel about the world. It is the deepest truth.”), and I’m sure there are many others. Can we suggest why this piece is so emotionally powerful and so surpassingly beautiful?

Well, UD will give it a go.

First, though, she will mow her back lawn. (She did the front an hour ago.) Ne quittez pas.

Recreating great paintings…

… from whatever you happen to have in the house.

Time well spent during an epidemic. More here.

As Polanski Wins Best Director…

...UD reads some recent words about him from her old buddy, Lisa Nesselson:

[The best] French film of the year, hands down, is Roman Polanski’s “J’accuse.”  Polanski is an absolute master of every aspect of filmmaking, he works with the best actors and technicians — which means they are eager to work with HIM — and the result is an incredibly important film that’s also thrilling to watch.  

I’m typing this on Jan 29th — the Cesar nominations were announced today and “J’accuse” leads with 12 nominations. That means that a majority of the 4,313 members of the Cesars Academy are in the mood to champion excellence. Whatever you think of Polanski himself and his confirmed and alleged bad behavior in decades past, it’s impossible to deny that “J’accuse” is outstanding.  I see no rationale that holds up to scrutiny for contending that he shouldn’t have been given the money to make it in the first place or that it shouldn’t be shown. The hypocrisy makes me ill. It has been a matter of public record since 1977 that Polanski raped then-13-year-old Samantha Geimer and now, all of a sudden, mostly young (but not exclusively) protestors are vandalizing the areas around theaters to write “Polanski is a Rapist” and “Theaters Are Complicit With a Rapist” on buildings and the street. The City has to remove that stuff — it costs money.  

For some useful perspective, I urge everybody to read Geimer’s excellent autobiography “The Girl” from 2013. She’s very smart, very funny, very self-aware and she was delighted when Polanski won the Oscar for “The Pianist” in 2003. Hey, protestors — that was 17 years ago! They’re hardly pals but the only person he owed an apology to was her — not us, not society, not people so ignorant that they think “Somebody else could have made that film.”  Geimer was delighted when “J’accuse” won the Silver Lion in Venice in September 2019 — “Joker” won the Golden Lion. We’re told that we must listen to women but hardly anybody cares to “listen” to Geimer — who is in her 50s and (understandably!) hates being frozen in time as a 13 year old to feed other peoples’ misplaced outrage. When she says that it’s pointless to protest or boycott Polanski and to please take your outrage elsewhere where it might do some good and make the world a better place, the but-but-but-he-raped-you-and-you’re-a-victim-for-eternity crowd won’t accept her own clearly stated assessment that being sodomized by a grown man at a tender age was highly unpleasant but not eternally traumatic.  

I think she’s a role model for overcoming the fallout from sexual assault but hardly anybody wants to view her that way. By the transitive power of faulty reasoning, an awful lot of people think Polanski shouldn’t make movies and if he does, you certainly shouldn’t go see them.

UD is definitely a judge the art, not the artist type; but she cringes when Lisa gets to “highly unpleasant.”

One of the winners of the 2019 landscape photography awards produced this moody….

… and somehow human image from Bulgaria.

I was just trying to help her with…

… her chest voice.

Les UDs are about to visit…

… ‘D.C.’s new must-see art museum.’ Glenstone.

They’ve got some Cy Twombly sculptures. UD loves Cy Twombly.

Roland Barthes on Twombly.

Profuse and perverted sex and money should bring out the writer in all of us…

… but only Margaret Carlson, so far, has really distinguished herself in this line. Her column in The Daily Beast is inspired.

A B-story involving the two famous lawyers on the case emerged on Thursday after attorney Alan Dershowitz, who’s worked for Epstein, boasted of his “perfect, perfect sex life” on Laura Ingraham’s Fox show. Dershowitz is furious that his ties to Epstein have been characterized by opposing attorney David Boies as going beyond parsing the rules of criminal procedure. Like a schoolboy, Dershowitz challenged Boies to a sex duel: to swear under oath that he’s only had sex with one woman during the same period. 

Truth is stranger than fiction.

Well but if you ask UD fiction is truth; you can’t approach an understanding of Ghislaine Maxwell without understanding, say, Madame Merle and Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil — two characters with whom Maxwell herself, with her high-level literary education (“I was drip-fed Shakespeare at Oxford,” she told a party reporter at the launch of book on Richard III by a Hollywood mega-lawyer in the late ’90s. “Just sniffing fresh ink gets me high.”), would be fully familiar. Naturally everyone’s citing The Great Gatsby in connection with Epstein — the identity is so strong that one assumes Epstein with some degree of self-awareness fashioned himself after Fitzgerald’s creation – and of course he called his notorious jet The Lolita Express. It’s not just that we reach for the deeper truths of the best literature in order to grasp the cruelties of human beings; some cruel human beings come to know and have confidence in their way of being in part through the discovery of literary models.

All of which is why the genius of Carlson’s little essay lies in her framing the entire Trump/Dershowitz/Epstein story as fiction. Not merely the Dershowitz B-story, but Trump’s “racist political thriller… a plot twist… Celebrity Racist The Jeffrey Epstein ShowBillions meets Stranger Things meets Empire … The show is now on location in the Southern District of New York where former  U.S. Attorney and recent Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, was dropped from the cast … Trump Trilogy… ” How really to understand Dershowitz (not to mention Trump) without revisiting the by-now fully fictionalized (for we know him through his engrossing, dominant role in Angels in America) Roy Cohn? Cohn “worked with a three-dimensional strategy, which was: 1. Never settle, never surrender. 2. Counter-attack, counter-sue immediately. 3. No matter what happens, no matter how deeply into the muck you get, claim victory and never admit defeat.”

This, that, and the other

Whoever among Ireland’s playwrights has inherited a gift closest to Samuel Beckett’s will find spectacular dialogue for her own Worstward Ho in a recent interview with an Irishwoman who joined ISIS in order to “fulfill her dream of living under Sharia law.” Read the following, if you can, with an artist’s eye.

We were in the taxi, he [her new husband] said, “When you go up here at the roundabout, close your eyes. There’s a man like this on the cross on the roundabout and his eyes are gouged out and he’s wearing a red suit and you don’t want to see it.” …

Life was like back home [in Ireland]. Just like back home. You get up in the morning, go shopping, get your stuff, come home, cook your dinner, clean your house. It’s just like my everyday life. Go visit a friend, drink some coffee.

This is what we came for, you know. We came for, like, no alcohol… no prostitution, no gays, no anything… And, for me, I really liked to live in the Islamic State because I never got to see any of this. I just had to experience a lot of bombing and this, that and the other, and hearing someone died and hearing this and hearing that but I didn’t have to see any of that.

You’re not gonna tell ol’ UD that this is not pure theatrical gold.

“Louisville hush money for my young gunners. / Rick Pitino, I take them to strip clubs and casinos.”

Pitino rapped.

Results: Yesterday’s London Auction of Two of Our …


After great pain, a …

formal sculpture comes.

Purdue sits ceremonious, a tomb –-

Beyond whose rich and gilded door

Lie dead and dying customers — a score

With the lilt of my beloved Lezhneva in my ears…

UD catches sight, for the hundredth thrilling time, of the New York skyline from her Northeast Regional.

She’s spending three days in Boston. Blogging continues throughout.

Viva Lezhneva.

‘It’s safe to say Young Dolph’s music isn’t the best setting [for] a coffee shop…’

Hot New Hiphop notes the incompatibility between lyrics like

I showed her a Xanax, she hurried up and took
I fucked her so good, she got up and started cooking
Rolling up big blunts, out a pound of cookies
If you ain’t got 40 bands, then you can’t book me
Pulled up on the side of your bitch, she wouldn’t stop looking
That bitch good as tooken, good as gone
I guarantee tonight my nigga, that bitch ain’t coming home
I got money to count, I got bitches to fuck
I got packs to flip, pistols to bust

and a public cafe.

One of Duke University’s cafes was playing this song for its customers when a vp of student life walked in, got wind of the pistols bitches and niggas, and took it up with an employee. The woman apologized and turned off the music, but the vp was really pissed and called the store’s management, which fired the woman and another guy who was also working the counter while the Xanax and the fucking so good wafted o’er the air.

The vp says he did not ask for them to be fired; he didn’t apparently ask for anything except for management to note that children and other non-violent, non-misogynistic people enter Duke’s establishment. The firing was management’s call.

UD doesn’t think the workers should have been fired. She does think that the cultural centrality of hiphop – like UD, I’m sure you’ve heard lyrics worse than these in public establishments – makes these incidents inevitable, and that universities need to think about whether this music is a good look for them.


UD thanks dmf.



I’ve been in public places with young kids around and thought, yikes, that song is a lot. I certainly wouldn’t go babysit for friends and throw on Dr. Dre with their 4 year-old. But even if you think the standards should change, the approach of calling out random people helplessly embedded in profane U.S. culture, as if upbraiding them is a righteous project, is not the way forward…

UD (see above) agrees; and yet think of that phrase: helplessly embedded… Really? Does that mean no one employed in a public setting has the capacity/responsibility to reject disgusting lyrics? Are we all helplessly embedded?


Another Update: The shop owner has now apologized for firing the employees. Good move.

The story is going national, which is also good. Attention must eventually be paid to the matter of – quoting from the article above – our helplessness relative to vile lyrics in public spaces.

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